LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Olympic Games documentarian Bud Greenspan, whose stirring portraits of athletic triumph helped define the modern games, died in New York on Saturday after a battle with Parkinson’s disease, his film company said. He was 84.
Greenspan uncovered the stories of hundreds of athletes, famous and obscure, ensuring that generations never forgot the perseverance that each of them displayed.
Perhaps his most famous memorable story was one of his first. At the 1968 games in Mexico City, Greenspan covered the last-place finish of injured marathon runner John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania, who staggered across the line in the dark at the near-empty stadium.
As recounted in Greenspan’s 1996 documentary “100 Years of Olympic Glory,” with Handel’s stirring “Israel in Egypt” oratorio playing over the emotional footage, Akhwari was asked why he did not drop out of the race. He replied simply, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
Greenspan began his career at a sports radio station in New York City, and also worked in print and television. He covered the 1952 games in Helsinki as a writer and also shot a short film about weightlifter John Davis’ successful title defense.
He and his wife formed a production company in the 1960s, and he unapologetically overlooked the Olympics’ increasingly sordid side in favor of heartwarming stories.
“Through his films, Bud told you the stories of the athletes, wherever they were from,” his friend and sports writer Alan Abrahamson wrote in a tribute. “He made them real people. They had families, just like you and me. That their names didn’t sound quite like ours or maybe their clothes didn’t look like what we would wear or whatever — all that faded away.”
Greenspan’s first major work was “Jesse Owens Returns To Berlin,” in which the American sprinter revisited the scene of his medal-winning triumphs at Hitler’s 1936 games almost 30 years earlier. Beginning with the boycott-plagued 1984 games in Los Angeles, Greenspan served as official documentarian of seven summer and winter events. He won seven Emmy Awards and multiple other honors.
Greenspan’s wife, Constance, died of cancer in 1983. He is survived by his companion and business partner, Nancy Beffa.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bill Trott